Mobile Commerce

Mobile's Global Popularity Is Testing Retail's Limits

Mobile Commerce's Global Growth

Retailers might say that they're committed to meeting consumers wherever they're most comfortable doing their shopping, but if some of the resource- and cash-strapped brands had their way, they might have something to say about the ever-increasing mediums over which even the least engaged shopper can research, compare and buy. For many, omnichannel competence has become an arms race they can't afford to lose. The second competitors roll out a new feature that makes the mobile experience more convenient to shop through, it's incumbent upon merchants to offer at least a similar experience to their shoppers.

However, at the rate that not just U.S.-bound but global consumers are adopting mobile as their shopping platform du jour, more and more retailers are finding that they can't make the grade.

Look no further than a series of recent studies put out on the rate with which mobile shopping is being adopted in three key global markets. The first nail in retailers' mobile-readiness coffins comes from the good, old U.S.A., where a Nielsen report looked at the purchasing habits of 3,700 adults who owned smartphones or tablets. Of this group, 37 percent said that mobile is their point of contact at least a quarter — and up to half — of the time. This smartphone-happy group spent the past year falling in love with app-based shopping, as both time spent and unique audience increased by 15 percent from Q4 2014 to Q4 2015.

If these numbers are giving North American retailers fits, they should shed a tear in solidarity for their U.K. counterparts. A joint Criteo-Ovum study on the digital habits of consumers in the British Isles found that mobile is on the verge of taking over all eCommerce traffic. Of the approximately 1.4 billion online transactions studied, 48.9 percent were placed through mobile devices, up nearly 6 percentage points from last year. If that were all U.K. retailers had to deal with, it wouldn't be much worth writing home about, but U.K. consumers have proven themselves even more willing to digitally diversify their purchasing habits than their Yankee brethren. As of Q1 2016, Criteo and Ovum found that 39 percent of all eCommerce purchases in the U.K. take place in part on several devices before any buy buttons are pushed.

As much as the Western world would like to think of itself as the only market that matters, China has proven a different outcome over the past several years. Chinese consumers have shown an appetite for mobile shopping just as, if not more, rapacious than those in the U.S. or U.K. A May report from McKinsey found that WeChat, the popular mobile messaging platform, was able to more than double the number of users (15 percent in 2015 to 31 percent in 2016) placing "impulse" purchases through the chat service — as strong a sign as any that Chinese mobile users have more than warmed up to the idea of their smartphones, tablets and phablets as ever-present extensions of the shoppable mobile Web.

So, there you have it: Wherever mobile shopping happens to be, there are growing blocs of consumers wearing the medium out.

The trouble is: Can the same be said of retailers?

For a top-performing few, the answer is yes. However, the PYMNTS.com Checkout Conversion Index (CCI), in collaboration with BlueSnap, paints a less mobile-prepared picture among the average retail pack. On average, the overall CCI only slipped 3 percentage points from Q4 2015 to Q1 2016, but the picture was much less rosier when broken down into winners and losers. For example, while 133 of the 657 retailers tracked by the CCI increased their relative scores by five points in that period, 211 saw them decline by the same amount. Concordantly, while 65 companies raised their CCI by 10 points, 98 tanked it by the same amount.

In the rosiest of terms, the last intra-quarter time frame might be looked at as the step back before the industry takes two steps forward on mobile checkout optimization. However, the rate at which consumers across the world have latched onto the medium doesn't make this an easy task. In fact, the data is already showing that such an organic, consumer-driven insistence on mobile proficiency can drive a wedge among retailers, separating the few that rise to the task from the many that are still struggling to figure out how it can be done.

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